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President Trump isn't learning — he's too busy talking

President Trump isn't learning — he's too busy talking
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During his stay at Walter Reed National Medical Center, President Trump recorded a video in which he declared: “I learned a lot about COVID… I get it and I understand it.”

When he returned to the White House, Trump told Americans, “Don’t let it dominate you. Don’t be afraid of it. You’re gonna beat it. Don’t let it take over your lives.”

That said, two questions remain: What does the president know and how does he know it? 

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Trump’s talks, tweets, taunts, and tirades do not dispel doubts that he knows that one out of every three adults (77 million Americans) reports difficulty covering household expenses (with even higher percentages among families with children and people of color); one out of six was not caught up on their rent; and over 22 million indicate they sometimes or often did not have enough to eat in the previous seven days.

Obsessed with the stock market, Trump has not acknowledged that — unlike previous recessions — job losses during the pandemic are much higher among poorly paid workers, or that reopening businesses while Coronavirus cases are surging is likely to have a devastating impact on public health — and on the economy.

One can only hope that President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE understands the 215,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19 are not “gonna beat it.”

He does not seem to realize that the medical treatment he received differs dramatically from the treatment available to most other Americans. And his macho proclamations about his health are at odds with what many survivors say about the toll the Coronavirus is taking on their lives. Trump might learn a lot by listening to them:

When six of her co-workers at Whole Foods Market in Washington D.C. tested positive for Coronavirus, 30-year-old Lakeisha Rollins, who filled online orders and was pregnant, left her job. As she spent down her $500 in savings, her landlord threatened to evict her, and a pandemic check was delayed by bureaucratic snafus, Rollins was petrified that she would be forced to move into a shelter: “I’m just swimming and hope I don’t drown. These are concerns people have in Third World countries.”

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When 28-year-old Daniel Martinez, a Navy veteran working as a field service technician in a car dealership in Houston, Texas, was laid off, he lost his employer-provided health insurance. Martinez found it difficult to explain to his three-year-old daughter what had happened. Months later, he was still looking for work: “It’s rough. Some days I feel hopeless because I don’t know what I can do.”

Shontee Branton, a 36-year-old first-grade teacher in Wilmer, Texas, acknowledges that most kids learn better in a classroom, especially when the technology at home is inadequate and no parent is available to help them. But she insists that the widespread perception that teachers don’t want to go to work is “not true. A lot of teachers have underlying conditions and concerns,” are fearful for themselves, their students, and the likelihood that in-person learning will accelerate community spread of the Coronavirus.

Robert McCord, Nancy Hopkins’ 83-year-old father, was gasping for breath as paramedics put him in an ambulance in Conway, South Carolina. She leaned over, caressed his arm, and promised “I’ll be with you every step of the way.” Hopkins never saw him again. She said goodbye through a phone placed in a plastic bag and held to his ear by a nurse. He had things to say, she recalls, “mainly ‘I love you.’”

“It’s been the biggest challenge of my life,” Hopkins said, “knowing I couldn’t be there. Because he depended on me.”

Jeff Thibodeau suffered from multiple sclerosis, not COVID-19. But when his nursing home in Texas locked down, Luann, his wife, who had shared dinner with him almost every evening and taken him to church and the movies each week, was devastated when he called ten times a day to ask why she hadn’t come to visit. On their 40th anniversary, Luann watched through a window while a nurses’ assistant fed him a carryout dinner from Olive Garden.

More than two-thirds of Americans do not trust President Trump on Coronavirus issues. Nothing he has said or done recently is likely to change their minds.

The president continues to hold rallies that risk becoming super-spreader events. He is still spreading false claims that the Coronavirus is not more lethal than the flu. His self-absorption is putting a spotlight on his deficits in empathy and compassion.

And so, it seems likely that Kristin Urquiza is not alone in claiming that the only precondition her 65-year-old dad had “was trusting Donald Trump.” Mark Urquiza thought he was following the president’s advice when he went to a karaoke bar after Arizona’s stay at home order was lifted, “and for that he paid with his life.”

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."